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Keeping it real with Primary Sources!
by Jim Forde

     The ELA Common Core State Standards (CCSS)  suggest the use of more primary source materials in science and social studies classes.  I agree that this will bring some interesting experiences to class and expose kids to some historically important documents.  These documents will also challenge them to read “closely” and will offer  great ways to generate, and reflect on, text dependent questions.  But where are these resources available?  They were not as easy to find as I thought, but here is a set of starting points that’ll point you in the right direction!

  1. Teaching with Primary Sources Journal--

This web site offers strategies and resources for K-12 classrooms from the Library of Congress. Can you top the LOC as a source for content?  This launching point will connect you to many other primary source collections.  If you try no other site on this list, at least stop by this one for a while. 

2)The American Memory Collection--

The American Memory collection is one of the resources you will access from the link above.  It organizes content on the Library of Congress web site in a Web Directory fashion that is very easy to navigate.  You can browse by collections. These include motion pictures, sheet music, photos books and more!  You can browse by time period.  It starts at the 1400’s and continues until the present.  You can also choose from popular topics.  These topics include such as Immigration, Maps, Women’s History, Presidents, and the Environment.  Don’t start browsing this web site unless you have a nice block of time.  It is mesmerizing!

  1. UC San Diego- SSHL Guide to ON-line Primary Sources -

This resource organizes primary source materials available to the UC San Diego community.  Some of these are locked (you’ll see a clever little lock logo) but most are available and amazing!  These resources are categorized by topics like military, newspapers, medieval studies, literature and more.  The link above drops you on the science page.  The menu on the top of the page is very easy to use. 

  1. Fordham University- Internet History of Science Sourcebook

This is yet another amazingly deep resource focused on the history of science.  Choose a period in history and see what resources exists to explore the history of science.  For example, you might ask, “What impact did Islam have on medicine?”  You might also discover that in the 18th century that there was small pox vaccination in Turkey.  Don’t even get me started on the scientific revolution section where I found excerpts of Isaac Netwon’s work.  The trick here would definitely be finding the right match between your curriculum and what your students can handle.

  1. Primary Resources Organized by State! -

Click on the Library of Congress interactive US map and get resources organized by your state.  How cool is that?  They even added a CCSS menu to allow you to search by grade and subject.  By clicking on CT I found at least a dozen compelling starting points.  I hope you find the same!

  1. Primary Source Nexus -

This site provides more primary source resources but I liked the interface as it was easy to navigate.  I also like the way they have many resources organized by the topic “Today in History.”  This could be used every day!  They also have a twitter feed @PSNTPS .  I say go for it!

  1. Science News -

For contemporary science news I would try the link above with my middle school/high school students.  They will be challenging, but after all, that is the point! 

As I find new resources I’ll store them on this symbaloo for us.

A natural follow-up to this post would be a discussion on the best ways to utilize primary sources, now that you’ve located them.  If you have any great ideas or resources on that please post them to the blog!  Let’s make this interactive.

One other note,  I started a twitter feed for sharing CCSS  and STEM resources at @ccssnetwork and @stemnetwork.  Please consider joining these growing communities.

Lastly, one thing to consider is some of these resources feature graphic content.  One example would be civil war battlefield photos.  Another example would be a section on sexuality.  PLEASE consider the students you are working with and point them directly to the resources you identify as useful.  I would not just drop them on the main page and let them loose.  (But if you are here at the DLE blog, you knew that already and this is an example preaching to the choir, once again!)

Happy Surfing!


About Jim

Jim Forde is a science and technology teacher at Scofield Magnet MS in Stamford, CT. He is a past teacher of the year and an educational technology enthusiast. You can reach Jim at